Media, Disability & COVID-19

According to United Nations, about 1 billion people all over the world come under the category of “disabled” and that is 15% of the global population. Now, the question is, shall we as a society neglect 15% people in the world just because they happen to be in minority?

Media being one of the crucial facets of society has a major role to play when it comes to disseminating information and making people aware about significant and ignored issues. Now, let us go through what media has done to represent people with disabilities and their issue since the beginning of the pandemic.

1) Disability and Broadcast Media

A Look: Public Broadcasters of various countries

In 2020, the World Federation of the Deaf noted that 80 governments in the world have been providing sign language interpretations while Covid-19 press briefings.

For example, in order to curb Covid-19 pandemic, South Korean government aimed to strengthen the ways disabled people could be informed during the pandemic and other related disasters. The country’s public broadcaster KBS during the pandemic announced that it would work to expand the reach of information in its disaster countries. During the pandemic, the public radio in the country had continued to provide programmes dedicated to disabled community with daily news and health updates and general life advice.

When it comes to India’s public television broadcaster Doordarshan and public radio-All India Radio, very minimal representation of disabled community took place during the pandemic. Even though the objective of the these broadcasters is social welfare, disabled community was one of the most ignored ones as “no special programmes” were held for this community, nor was their issue highlighted specifically anywhere. News Bulletins with sign language were held for the disabled community though. More has to be done to ensure social inclusion of all communities including the disabled ones.

Private Broadcasters: nothing matters, but profits!

Media all over the world, including the Indian ones either portray disabled people as “nothing” or “everything” and both of them are dangerous. In 2019, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting in India directed the private channels to include special schemes for disabled community. Although some channels have started news bulletins for disable people but there was almost equal to zero representation of the disabled community during the pandemic.

There should be open space for the disabled community such as they should be invited for panel discussions and debates relating to different happenings in the world from politics to entertainment and like.

Digital Media: A hope in every way!

This is probably the best when it comes to serving and representing the disabled community during the pandemic. Digital and online media were the perfect mediums through which disabled people got proper spaces to talk about the issues they were facing during the pandemic.

One of the online apps called “News Hook” became increasingly popular among the disabled audience which used sign language specifically for the audience with hearing impairment. It covered headlines relating to technology, politics, entertainment, business and sports during the pandemic. It should also be noted that 65% of the staff here were from the disabled community.

Moreover, web portals of Indian Newspapers like The Indian Express and The Business Standards and many more gave enough of space to the disabled people so that they can talk freely about the issues they faced during the lockdowns.

The same above mentioned media channels also used platforms like YouTube to sensitise the audiences regarding the hindrances faced by the disabled community. Some reporters and even famous YouTube personalities covered the terrible times disabled people in India went through during the pandemic.

It should also be noted that online media was comfortable for disabled people as well as the medium is now more easily accessible with good quality content and also because of its low price rates.

Media, especially the mainstream media should be more responsible and sensitive in dealing with issues relating to the disabled community. More representation about the disabled community should take place in the mainstream media. Disabled people “aren’t incapable” and therefore they should be given proper employment in the media. They should be engaged and involved in live discussions and debates. Together, as society which includes the media we should create an environment which is inclusive, anti- discriminatory and diverse.